Sunday, March 4, 2012

A little consideration, please...

Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children have teenagers of their own.
Doug Larson

I spend a good deal of my professional time interacting with parents and their teens.  One issue that has popped up recently is the struggle between parents and teens: Teens say they want more independence, freedom and to be seen as adults and parents say that they want their kids to show responsibility, respect and evidence that they can handle more independence.  

From the parents' perspective, all the signs are evident that the kid just isn't ready: 
Comes home late - check
Spends more time with friends than with family - check
Refuses to open up to parents about details of the day - check
Most often heard words include: whatever, fine!, just leave me alone, ...but I....
Says they will help out more around the house, but needs constant nagging/supervision. - check

From the teen's perspective, all the signs are there to show the world that they are ready to be adults: 
Holding down a job AND a decent GPA at school - check
Picks up his/her own room without being told - check
Has a checking/savings account - check
Pays for own cell phone - check

The complaint I hear coming from parents usually has something to do with what I call parental anxiety.  Parental anxiety is activated when our children display their lack of consideration for their families (especially their parents).  For instance, the teen is supposed to be either at school, at work, or home at specified times.  When the teen fails to show up, or check in, or even text, parental anxiety is activated.  Parental thinking may include any one of (or mixture of) the following: 
*I'm worried... my child could be hurt or in danger
*I'm annoyed... this is just the latest example of a lack of respect for my time and abusing the privilege of having a car/job
*My child is too lazy/inconsiderate/disrespectful  to follow the rules and call 
*My child ALWAYS does this... he/she knows it will make me upset and he/she is doing it on purpose.

Many parents have valid and legitimate issues with their teen... it is rude and inconsiderate.  If it is an ongoing problem that has been addressed before, it may be seen as disrespectful even.  However, it is helpful to keep in mind that if a parent approaches their teen with that perspective, they will invite defensiveness, possible withdrawal and even angry behavior in return.  Even when they are accurate and justifiable, blaming attitudes rarely help resolve issues.  

It may be helpful for parents to remember that, as adults, we have had years to learn to be considerate of others.  It probably started for us in our late teens or early twenties... the romantic relationships that were so important that we had to start taking into account what the other person liked and disliked.  In those exclusive relationships, we suddenly had to learn to take another person's preferences into account when planning our weekends.  You remember that phase of courtship, right?  Our sense of being considerate of another only got stronger when we actually married someone... now there was another human being who has emotional, social and legal claim to our time and attention and property.  We either learned to be more considerate or had lousy relationships.  When our kids came along, now there was another human being who depended on us thinking about their needs juxtaposed to our own needs... and the 'being considerate of others' training goes on as we grow...

Teenagers, on the other hand, are developmentally predisposed to be selfish and lack consideration.  After all, they haven't had 14-18 years of learning to take the thoughts and feelings of others into account.  The prime directive for teens is to differentiate and individualize and yet somehow remain connected to their family of origin.  They face enormous social pressure to be both unique and conformed.  They walk a fine line of being responsible and yet impulsive.  

The bottom line is that being considerate of others is a skill that is underdeveloped in most teens and if parents will work at helping them develop the skill instead of chastising them for not already having a 30-40 year old's sense of consideration, both parties would be happier and emotionally healthier.